12/29/2014 08:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pearson Overtakes Saudi Arabian Education System


This June 24, 2014, article is from Innovation Africa Kigali, Rwanda.

It seems that Pearson-- which already "has a significant presence in Saudi Arabia"-- has "pledged its support for a new education initiative" in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi King Abdullah is adding an extra $21 billion to the Saudi Arabian education budget.

Pearson is there-- already-- to dip into those billions.

Indeed, this Saudi Arabian "education overhaul" will be quite the lucrative field day for Pearson since 58 percent of the population is under 25 years old (termed a "youth bulge"). However, the "challenges" this presents could have been cut and pasted from any number of documents on the "failure" of the US education system:

At present, there is a significant gap between the needs of business and industry, and the skills and knowledge being provided by the country's education system. Young Saudis are finishing their education at higher levels than ever before, but are finding it increasingly difficult to find meaningful employment. At the same time, research shows that employers throughout the Kingdom, and across the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), cannot find enough appropriately skilled workers to fill their human resource requirements. Saudi Arabia, like its neighbours also suffers from a lack of workers trained for in-demand professions in the engineering, science and medical fields. [Emphasis added.]

Sounds like justification for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

That achievement gap must have lots of stamps on its passport.

Pearson has a "country manager" in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Asiri, and he is ready with some more CCSS-type, economically-driven, education language:

The unique demographic make-up of Saudi Arabia is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the country. The large - and growing - number of young people entering the workforce can be a competitive advantage for the country's economy in the global marketplace, but only if there are jobs - and good jobs - available, and only if candidates for those jobs are suitably qualified to perform effectively in the workplace.

The first step in making this happen is building a world-class education system that provides the types of skills needed by Saudi's employers in the public and private sectors, and in industries with the greatest demand. This means fostering capabilities in the areas of mathematics, science, technology and engineering.

No mention of comprehensive assessment in the above, June 2014, article. However, where there is Pearson, there is a potential assessment market.

As of September 2014, Pearson Country Manager Mohammed Asiri has also added the title, "VP Quality and Standards (Saudi Skills Standards, Ministry of Labor)"-- and he is apparently working on standards known as the National Occupational Skills Standards (NOSS) "for all vocational occupations in Saudi Arabia"-- and "developing the assessments for every qualification."

It turns out that in his role as Country Manager, Asiri "introduc[ed] Pearson as a potential partner/provider in the Saudi nationwide projects." Asiri also "buil[t] the legal entity and the sales structure that supports Pearson strategy to offer E-Learning and E-content solutions to the Saudi Market."

Yep. "Digital solutions" ready to replace teacher judgment and collect unprecedented data on individuals.

Saudi Arabia will be steeped in Pearson, standards and assessments included.

And teacher prep. Pearson will partner with Taweer Company for professional development of Saudi science and math teachers. Pearson will also monitor Saudi English language instruction providers. (Might as well make money off of teacher prep before these teachers are replaced with "E-solutions.")

It appears that all it took was one strategically-placed Pearson employee with a really flashy title and a knack for sales.

Prior to becoming the top Pearson voice in Saudi Arabia, Asiri was managing education sales accounts for Microsoft. Before that, he was in sales for Cisco Systems. Before that, sales for Al-Rajhi Bank. In fact, Asiri's professional background is divided between sales and before that, computer programming-- not teaching. Not even educational administration. And now, he is in charge of setting standards and assessments for an entire nation.

I had to double-check to see if I were really writing about an American, test-driven education reformer instead.

Saudi Arabia, I feel for you.

Originally posted 12-28-14 at

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who's Who In the Implosion of American Public Education